Civilian Death Toll of Sarajevo “Siege” Grossly Over-Stated - April 1, 2010

Written by: Andy Wilcoxson


For years we have been led by our news media to believe that anywhere from 10,000 to 12,000 civilians, including 1,500 to 3,000 children, were killed by Bosnian-Serb forces that “besieged” the Bosnian capital city of Sarajevo for 44 months during the 1992-95 Bosnian war.


The Montreal Gazette described Sarajevo as, “a modern-day European agony in which more than 10,000 civilians lost their lives to snipers or wanton artillery shelling.”[1] The Associated Press flatly asserted that “More than 10,000 civilians in Sarajevo were killed during the war.”[2] Agence France Presse told its readers that “Some 12,000 civilians including 1,500 children were killed during the siege.”[3] And the London Guardian reported that “3,000 children and 12,000 civilians were killed” in Sarajevo during the war.[4]


As it turns out, the civilian death toll in Sarajevo was not 12,000 nor was it “more than 10,000”. It was significantly less than 10,000. According to a report (PowerPoint format) sponsored by the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and released last year by the Sarajevo-based Research & Documentation Center, the civilian death toll in Sarajevo during the Bosnian war was 5,604 – about half the numbers reported by the press.


According to the report, the majority of people who died in Sarajevo were soldiers. The overall death toll in Sarajevo was 14,011 consisting of 5,604 civilians and 8,407 soldiers. The findings closely mirror a statistical analysis done by the Demographic Unit of the UN War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague which found that 62.69% of the people who were killed in Sarajevo during the war were soldiers, 36.84% were civilians, and 0.47% were of unknown military status. The Tribunal’s report also found that 82.33% of the victims were men, 17.64% were women, and the sex of the victim could not be determined in 0.03% of cases.


As far as the death of children was concerned, the Tribunal’s report found that 19.09% of the civilians killed in Sarajevo were age 17 or younger. Based on a total of 5,604 civilian victims that extrapolates to 1,070 children killed, nowhere near the 1,500 to 3,000 reported by the press.


The press grossly over-stated the number of children killed in Sarajevo and they reported an overall civilian death toll that was double what it actually was. Our news media didn’t just exaggerate the civilian death toll -- they outright lied about it.


The fact that the civilian death toll was dramatically lower than we were told it was is significant because we were led to believe that for 44 months Bosnian Serb forces were “besieging” Sarajevo and wantonly killing the civilian population.


If you divide the number of civilians killed by the length of the so-called “siege” you get an average death toll of about 4.2 civilians killed per day in the city. Of course it’s tragic when anybody gets killed, but the numbers just aren’t high enough to substantiate the conclusion that a widespread and deliberate campaign to murder civilians was afoot.


Bosnian-Serb culpability is further diminished by the fact that the Bosnian-Serbs weren’t the only ones doing the shooting. It is highly improbable that all of the civilians who died in Sarajevo were killed by the war operations of the 18,000 Bosnian-Serb troops based in the Serbian areas surrounding Sarajevo, and that none of the civilians were killed by the war operations of the 45,000 Bosnian-Muslim troops based inside the city.


Neither side had “smart bombs,” laser guided missiles, nor any kind of high-tech computerized weaponry. They were using World War II and Vietnam War era weapons. The use of such weaponry in a densely populated urban area like Sarajevo is virtually guaranteed to cause civilian casualties.


There is no precise data on how many civilians were killed by the war operations of each side. According to the Tribunal’s report, 79% of the persons (military and civilian combined) killed in Sarajevo were Muslims, 5.3% were Serbs, 4.5% were Croats, and 11.1% were others.


It’s a safe bet that the majority of civilians who got killed in the city during the war were Muslims, but that’s to be expected. Muslims are, by far, the dominant ethnic group in Sarajevo. Whenever artillery fire hit a civilian object in the city there was a very high likelihood that the resulting civilian casualties would be Muslims.


Even though the civilian death toll was drastically lower than we were led to believe it was, the blood of 5,604 dead civilians, including 1,070 children, is still on someone’s hands. Our news media – you know, those people who’ve been lying about the civilian death toll for the last fifteen years – they’d like us to blame the Bosnian Serbs.


NBC News reporter Jim Maceda took to the airwaves and told viewers of the NBC Nightly News that “Karadzic, the former Bosnian Serb leader, and his military commander Mladic orchestrated the siege in Sarajevo in which 12,000 civilians died.”[5] According to the London Mirror, Karadzic is responsible for no less than “the worst atrocities in Europe since the Holocaust. He is accused of ordering the shelling of Sarajevo killing 12,000 civilians.”[6] Canada’s Globe and Mail told its readers that “Mladic’s snipers and mortar crews perched in the hills that circle the downtown and held a three-year siege of the multiethnic city. They killed as many as 12,000 civilians, forced the rest to live in terror and destroyed much of the city’s infrastructure.”[7]


In spite of our news media’s zeal to condemn the Bosnian Serbs, it was the Muslims who turned Sarajevo into a war zone.


Nikola Gardovic, a Serb, was the first civilian war victim to be killed in Sarajevo. He was the father of the groom in a Serbian wedding party that was attacked by Muslims in Sarajevo on March 1, 1992 during the referendum on Bosnia’s secession from Yugoslavia.


Eyewitnesses identified Gardovic’s killer as Ramiz Delalic “Celo”, the commander of a notorious Muslim “Green Beret” paramilitary unit in based in Sarajevo. [8]


In spite of warrants issued for his arrest by the Bosnian Interior Ministry, Delalic was appointed by the Muslim authorities to the command of the Stari Grad police department in Sarajevo. He was also appointed to the command of the 3rd Mountain Brigade and the 9th Motorized Brigade of the Bosnian-Muslim Army.[9]


Delalic clearly had a mandate from his superiors to carry out the killing; otherwise they wouldn’t have put him in charge of their police and appointed him to command positions in their military.


One could certainly speculate that the Muslim objective in murdering Gardovic was to provoke a violent Serbian reaction that they could use as an alibi to accuse the Serbs of precipitating the fighting in Sarajevo.


Prior to it’s secession in 1992, Bosnia and Herzegovina was part of Yugoslavia. Muslim paramilitaries in Sarajevo attacked Yugoslav People’s Army (JNA) soldiers in their barracks and they attacked them while they were trying to leave Sarajevo.


On May 3, 1992, Muslim Green Berets massacred a column of JNA soldiers on Dobrovoljacka Street in Sarajevo while they were attempting to withdraw from Bosnian territory. The attack was all the more insidious because the Muslims launched the attack after they promised to let the soldiers pass peacefully.[10]


On May 28, 1992, as the JNA was attempting to pull the last of its troops out of Bosnia, Muslim paramilitaries attacked JNA soldiers based in the Jusuf Dzonlic barracks and the Marshal Tito barracks in Sarajevo.[11]


The so-called “Siege” began as an operation to rescue JNA soldiers being held captive by Muslim paramilitaries in the Marshal Tito barracks.[12]


During his testimony as a prosecution witness at the Milosevic trial, David Harland, the UN’s Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping in Bosnia, testified that between March 28, 1993 and April 27, 1994, the Muslim side violated UN-brokered cease-fires in Sarajevo 514 times. He said, “The Muslims certainly understood that when they fired out of the city that [it] would provoke incoming Serb fire, which would make normal life in the city impossible.”[13]


The Muslims purposefully endangered their civilian population. For example, the Kosevo Hospital in Sarajevo was the biggest hospital in Bosnia, and the Muslims used it as a firing position from which to attack the Bosnian Serbs. They deliberately exposed a civilian hospital to artillery fire.


Philippe Morillion, the French general commanding the UN force in Bosnia from 1992 to 1993, testified at the UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague that the Muslims “very frequently used mortars at Kosevo for provocation purposes”.[14]


Morillion was so outraged by the practice that he wrote a letter of protest to the Bosnian-Muslim president Alija Izetbegovic after one particularly egregious incident in 1993. He wrote that on January 11, 1993, “[an] 82-milimeter mortar had been set up on the western side of the Kosevo Hospital within the hospital grounds. This mortar and its crew then proceeded to fire nine rounds using the hospital as a screen. The direct consequence of this disreputable and cowardly act was that shortly afterward the hospital came under fire from anti-aircraft gunfire, artillery fire, and mortar fire ... You will, I’m sure, be aware that the firing of weapons from the hospital is against the Geneva Convention.”[15]


The Muslims turned Sarajevo into a war zone and they deliberately exposed Sarajevo’s civilian population to enemy gunfire. On top of that, the Muslim troops in Sarajevo were not consistently outfitted in uniforms.[16] As one Muslim police officer from Sarajevo explained in his testimony at the UN Tribunal in The Hague, some of the Muslim soldiers in Sarajevo “fought in civilian clothes and in sneakers.”[17]


Obviously, the lack of uniforms would make it difficult for the Bosnian-Serbs or any other opposing military force to differentiate between the Muslim soldiers and the civilian population.


The Muslims held the civilian population of Sarajevo hostage. The Muslims wouldn’t let anybody leave the city. There was one way out of the city, through a tunnel, and the Muslims posted military police there to prevent anyone from leaving. The only people who were allowed to leave the city were those who had a special pass from the police, and only a select few were ever given the pass.[18]


The Muslims: 1) Turned Sarajevo, a densely populated urban area, into a war zone. 2) They deliberately exposed the civilian population living in Sarajevo to retaliatory fire by firing at Bosnian-Serb positions from civilian objects like the Kosevo Hospital. 3) Part of the Muslim army fought in civilian clothes making it harder for the Bosnian-Serbs to differentiate between military personnel and civilians. 4) They violated UN ceasefire agreements hundreds of times. 5) They wouldn’t let the civilian population leave the city after they turned it into a war zone.


The Muslims did all of that in order to foster an image of civilian death and suffering in Sarajevo that would induce NATO to intervene in the war against the Bosnian-Serbs. The Muslims knew they couldn’t win on the battlefield because the Bosnian-Serbs had them out-gunned, so they conned Western public opinion into letting NATO be their air force.


The leaders of the Bosnian-Muslims are clearly responsible for the 5,604 civilians who died in Sarajevo during the war. Our news media concealed every despicable thing they did, and they lied to us about what the Bosnian-Serbs did. They told us that Karadzic and Mladic were responsible for the death of anywhere from 10,000 to 12,000 civilians including 1,500 to 3,000 children in Sarajevo, but it was a lie. It never happened. It was war propaganda pure and simple.


[1] "Leader of Sarajevo siege faces NATO war-crimes charges," The Gazette (Montreal, Quebec), December 21, 1999

[2] "Sarajevo residents commemorate New York and Washington victims," Associated Press Worldstream, November 1, 2001

[3] "Sarajevo siege general deserved life term: victims," Agence France Presse, December 12, 2007

[4] Ros Coward, The Guardian (London), "Parents of a Stolen Childhood; Zlata Filipovic, diarist and Bosnian refugee, is the mainstay of her family. Ros Coward talks to her about success, sadness and Sarajevo," November 13, 1996

[5] NBC News Transcripts, NBC Nightly News, March 19, 2006

[6] Mark Ellis, The Mirror (London), “The Evil Secret of Dr Dabic; Under the Crazy White Beard and Specs ... Radovan Karadzic, Beast of Bosnia he Posed as Medic Promoting Herbal Cures and Healing with Prayer but He was Wanted for Deaths of Thousands in Balkans War Massacre,” July 23, 2008

[7] Doug Saunders, "Net tightens on Serb war-crimes fugitive; Ex-general Mladic is negotiating his surrender, official sources say," The Globe and Mail (Toronto), February 22, 2006

[8] Testimony of Ramiz Delalic “Celo”, Halilovic trial transcript, ICTY, May 17, 2005: Pg. 11; See Also: “Sarajevo Court to Renew Proceedings on Murder that Precipitated Bosnian War,” BBC Worldwide Monitoring, February 1, 2002; Source: Federation news agency, Sarajevo, in Serbo-Croat 0930 gmt 1 Feb 02

[9] “Other Reports on Bosnia-Hercegovina; Bosnian Interior Ministry Issues Arrest Warrant for Wedding Killing,” BBC Summary of World Broadcasts, March 5, 1992; Source: Yugoslav News Agency in Serbo-Croat 1900 gmt 3 Mar 92; See Also: Testimony of Ramiz Delalic “Celo”, Halilovic trial transcript, ICTY, May 17, 2005: Pg. 12

[10] Testimony of Philippe Morillon (Bosnia UN Protection Force Commander), Milosevic Trial transcript, ICTY, February 12, 2004; Pg. 31996

[11] “Yugoslav Army Troops Attacked on Leaving Sarajevo Barracks,” BBC Summary of World Broadcasts, May 29, 1992; Section: Part 2 Eastern Europe; A. International Affairs; 2. Eastern Europe; EE/1393/ i

[12] Testimony of Philippe Morillon (Bosnia UN Protection Force Commander), Milosevic Trial transcript, ICTY, February 12, 2004; Pg. 31995-31996

[13] Testimony of David Harland, Milosevic Trial transcript, ICTY, November 5, 2003; Pg. 28675

[14] Testimony of Philippe Morillon (Bosnia UN Protection Force Commander), Milosevic Trial transcript, ICTY, February 12, 2004; Pg. 32047

[15] Philippe Morillon’s letter of protest to Alija Izetbegovic, January 19, 1993; Milosevic trial exhibit D-147

[16] Testimony of Aernout Van Lynden (Sky News Correspondent), Milosevic Trial transcript, ICTY, 15 September 2003, Pg. 26700

[17] Testimony of Mirsad Kucanin (Sarajevo-Muslim police officer), Milosevic Trial transcript, ICTY, 13 November 2003, Pg. 28973

[18] Ibid. Pg. 28973-28974.

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